Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Dumbshow-within-a-Dumbshow in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Dir. Tom Stoppard. Perf. Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, and Richard Dreyfuss. 1990. DVD. Image Entertainment, 2005.

The film version of Tom Stoppard's stupendous comedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, even if it could do with a bit of streamlining, is delightful. Of particular interest, because we at Bardfilm seem to be finding connections between puppets and Shakespeare recently, is the Puppet Show Dumbshow.

The film is filled with even more layers of acting than is the play. The Player (that's the designation he's given in the Dramatis Personae) and The Tragedians (likewise) are constantly popping up and telling Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about art, about life, about death (particularly about death), and about theatre.

They're also constantly putting on plays or rehearsing for plays. In this scene, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come upon The Player and The Tragedians as they rehearse the dumbshow for their production of The Murder of Gongazo. The Player Uncle murders the Player King and marries the Player King. Then one Lucianus, Player Nephew to the Player King, comes up with a plan to detect the Player Uncle's guilt. He commands that a puppet show version of The Murder of Gongazo be put on before the Player Uncle and the Player Queen. That's what we have in the clip below: a film version of a puppet show within a dumb show within a rehearsal for a play-within-a-play that is made up primarily of the backstage parts of another play. The dizziness you feel is aesthetic appreciation—nothing to worry about. Oh, and don't miss Rosencrantz's exit line after all the chaos.

Well, it wasn't that bad!

As you saw, the film cuts from the Player Uncle's realization of his guilt to Claudius' realization of his guilt. If it hadn't, I imagine the Puppet Nephew to the Puppet King would have come up with an idea to show the Puppet Uncle and the Puppet Queen an animated version of The Murder of Gongazo, and the Animated Nephew to the Animated King would have had to show a silent film version of The Murder of Gongazo to the Animated Uncle—and so on—until the Sock Puppet version of The Murder of Gongazo dissolves, making way for the entirety of the Kenneth Branagh Hamlet. And then we cut to Tom Stoppard, waking up screaming.

"I could interpret between you and your love if I could see the puppets dallying."

(Hamlet, III.ii.241-42)

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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